Reflection #3: Continuing to enrich the EFZ/Peddie bond

This is the last in a series of three reflections written by Jian Wang, one of two faculty members from EFZ who visited Peddie for three weeks in January. The visit was part of the EFZ/Peddie sister school partnership program, which is approaching it's 10 year anniversary. Wang and his colleague Jing Jin met with faculty and department chairs, attended classes, meals and community events, and made comparisons between the ideals and practices of both schools.  

Not until learning the countdown of John Terry’s departure from Chelsea at the end of season 2015-16 did I realize that all good things must come to an end, and thus does our productive visit to Peddie. Yet this is no time for sentimentalism, as the temporary parting away means nothing but inaugurating a new chapter of our story.

My trip south to the 28th North Carolina conference on teaching contemporary mathematics marked the beginning of the end. Physical transitions into a new environment have always been a problem for me, even though I was part of the GWB (Gartner, Wang, and Buchner) trio this time! Being unable to sleep soundly under an unfamiliar roof was one challenge, but the idea of approaching mathematics through a path of modeling the world seemed quite suspicious to me, partly due to the fact that I am no big fan of applied math, the engineering side of mathematics. 

Though lost in the maze of the buildings of our host NCSSM and the puzzle of the pedagogical ideas claimed by the conference, I was able to dive into the subsequent pile of sessions after all, and I returned Hightstown feeling of reassured after being exposed to this foreign world of modeling. Information provided by speakers from all over the States made me delighted, since I was able to identify familiar issues and solutions we have back at EFZ in almost every session. Though subconsciously fighting against the fear that I might be alone in the beginning, the fact that I have allies all over here made me feel much better. The worth of pushing myself forward prevails again.

While regular school visits and conferences benefit each individual member, the potential change that is taking place at the math department here at Peddie is surely more than picking from a box of chocolates. A team consisting of proficient, diverse professionals, the math department is running a mature curriculum that provides students with steady foundation of knowledge in math. It was no wonder that I found my head in clouds when I learned about the plan to reform the curriculum on my very first day with the department! The subsequent intra- and inter-departmental meetings as well as various conversations with individual members of the department gradually demystified my confusion. The reforming of curriculum is virtually a practice of aufheben—to negate the current status while continuing on the same track simultaneously. The process of insightful reflection on the pros and cons as a team surely drives each individual to evaluate his or her own stake, yet there is more to it than that. The math department does not operate alone. Interactions with the science department and the academic community at Peddie as a whole is required in order to provide a continual adaption of the curriculum that will accommodate each new generation of students and best fit contemporary worldwide education. This takes time and effort, but the dedication and determination shown in the math department makes it possible.

Admittedly, it is necessary for a large community to think critically and prudently before implementing significant changes, but sometimes a small yet bold step forward can become the driving force to a breakthrough. The story of Peddie's math department is rehearsed, often on a larger scale, almost every day somewhere in the world during the past few decades. When EFZ found its International Division in the last year of the twentieth century, many doubted if we should risk our reputation for being the incubator of gold medals on a dozen unknown international students. Nowadays, the International Division of EFZ is not only surviving and growing, but is also recognized as a cornerstone of the Confucius Academy program. Thanks to the success and reputation of the International Division, in the academic year 2014-15, EFZ was elected by the administer of education as one of the twenty public high schools in Shanghai to run a special program that provides local students with international education through the program of International Curriculums. This is a clear signal indicating that high schools are gradually taking over colleges on the frontier of international communication in education in China. While it is difficult to send beloved kids abroad so that they gain a broader view toward the world, the Chinese believe that, by doing this, the story of contemporary China will no longer be restricted to our homeland. Instead, we are bringing to the world with the most up-to-date story of China.

Breaking the shell to experience a brand new world can be painful, both for nestlings and for human beings. Yet it happens, and it often pays back.